Texans rule Angola's lucrative oil fields
As the helicopter zooms towards an orange flame on the ocean's horizon where Angola's lucrative oil fields lie images
from science fiction movies spin in your head. But robots don't rule these offshore colonies, they've got
Take Jim Hayes, a San Antonio native, a man as big as LBJ who speaks like it's Sunday and it's time to go fishin'. "Time goes by pretty quickly here; there's always something happening," says Hayes, manager of Texaco's Lombo East Platform.
Hayes oversees a crew of 70 men producing some 67 000 bpd of crude from three platforms and 65 wells in about 42 m of water in block two offshore Angola. About 80 % of the crew are Angolans. Wearing overalls and hardhats, grappling with immense stacks of complex machinery, the crew appears to be operating the lair of an early James Bond movie. And it can be just as dangerous.
"We've got hydrogen sulphide 3 % by volume here in this field," says Hayes. "If a pipe breaks, one breath at 1 000 ppm can cause paralysis and death." The need for tight seals on emergency oxygen masks prohibits crew growing beards. A combustible cargo of gas and crude with two roaring gas-flaring flames nearby adds to safety concerns.
But hydrogen sulphide alarms would trigger at just 10 ppm and Texaco's Angola offshore operations have won the company's global safety award for the past two years. A monitoring system keeps track of the crew and like in any good adventure movie, there are always escape pods, or lifeboats. Two of the three 80-man sealed boats can accommodate the rig's 125-member team.
The site, 25 minutes by helicopter from Texaco's base at Soyo at the mouth of the Congo River, accounts for all of
the company's current in-country production as operator. The nearby Bagre and Essuno platforms feed into Lombo East,
then to a floating storage and offloading (FSO) vessel. It pumps up to a mm barrels into tankers about every 10 days
according to a schedule arranged among block two's partners Texaco, Brazil's Braspetro, Angola's Sonangol and French
Texaco's latest project at Lombo East has been drilling two horizontal wells, or sidetracks, to maximise production as the oil reserve gradually declines from a high of 115 000 bpd in 1998. Angola is expected to hike its total current 750 000 bpd production to about 1 mm bpd by the end of the year.
In another project, Texaco hopes by September to begin sharing a 2.3 mm barrel capacity FSO vessel with TotalFinaElf,
which is operating the declining Palanca field in neighbouring block three. The 16.6 km or so of pipe alone cost $ 22
mm but the move will save rental costs on the current FSO.
To maintain pressure in the reservoir, Lombo East re-injects 45 mm cfpd of gas from the 140 mm cf of gas it produces. Crew members work in shifts of varying lengths. Expatriates work 28 days straight then take 28 days off, many travelling back to their home countries.
"We've got 27 different countries represented in our crew so we are quite diverse," says Hayes, a six-year veteran of Angola. "After 12-plus hours working, you eat, read a little bit or watch TV and then it's bed before starting again at 5 am," he says. There's also a small gym with weights although Hayes prefers brisk walks around the heli-deck. "You see more beautiful sunsets than you would in a lifetime elsewhere," he says.
Repairing a temperamental gas compressor occupies some of the crew as Hayes surveys the 57 mm tall structure. "We've
got guys here that can pretty much repair anything except maybe your watch," says Hayes pointing to a lathe for
making parts. "We're self-sufficient here, producing our own electricity from gas, and water from desalination," says
There's more self-sufficiency in a sewage treatment plant and fish for dinner is never a problem: A crewman hauls in the catch from lines strung near one of the rig's three legs. As a sort of man-made reef, the rig attracts all sorts of marine life. Once visitors came to watch whales.
"A few years ago we caught a 147.9 kg grouper," boasts Hayes, who has the photo tacked behind his desk to prove it. "We brought him in with the crane." Then he tosses over some tackle, says it was snapped in two by a barracuda, and the pastime takes on a new intensity. But he's talking fishing and the big man is happy to be at sea, waiting for a Sunday to take out a skiff when the hot work of pumping oil can be set aside for a different adventure. "You work hard, and when you rest, you rest hard," says the Texan.